Date of Degree
DMA (Doctor of Musical Arts)
Erich W. Korngold's Second Sonata, op. 2 (1910), and Artur Schnabel's Piano Sonata (1923) are composed in completely different styles. Korngold's late-Romantic sonata has lush, poignant harmonies, while Schnabel's five-movement work is atonal with twelve-tone elements and unabashedly harsh. However, the two pieces share Expressionistic attributes like extreme contrasts, leitmotifs, and manic-depressive tendencies.
Korngold's sonata has a façade of glory and splendor that conceals darker proceedings. This façade breaks down in the later movements. Schnabel's sonata, like his personality, is frank and unapologetic. Each movement has a unique agenda; the five movements as a whole have few musical elements in common among them. Despite these divergent effects, the sonatas are united by the personal link between the composers, namely, Schnabel's decision to widely perform Korngold's sonata. Schnabel, more famous for performing than for composing, was inordinately choosy regarding the composers whose music he performed. Schnabel "only [performed] music that is better than it can be played," and he was especially disdainful of modern music. Given these preferences, Schnabel's championing the young Korngold's unproven work is extraordinary. Forty years later, Schnabel described it as a "most amazing piece."
Perhaps this fascination is the result of their common perspective toward Vienna. The present essay will interpret these two works using fin de siècle Vienna as a framework, especially typifying "the atmosphere of Vienna, of jesting defeatism and precious, playful morbidity in the [1890s], of her gradual decay." Accounts by Schnabel, author Stefan Zweig, and others describe the Viennese as "incorrigible optimists" fascinated by music and theatre but uninterested in world affairs. Korngold composed his sonata during the foreboding years preceding World War I, profiling the indifference to societal and political ills. Schnabel composed his sonata after the war, when the "Golden Age of Security," as Zweig phrased it, was corroded by Vienna's opulence and decadence.
Accordingly, this essay will elucidate one possible interpretation for each of these pieces, movement by movement, with this dichotomy in mind. The interpretations will vividly illustrate the pretentious depravity and decadence from raucous revelry, as well as the profound pain and dire consequences that follow. Korngold's sonata is as a painting of realism, and his piece uses rich harmonies and soaring melodies to plainly depict the society. Schnabel's sonata, on the other hand, is a work of abstract art, using surrealism and exaggeration to warp images and environments, and portray society as suffering consequences that are unimaginably horrible, consequences that only a mind in the throes of a never-ending nightmare could envisage.
Copyright 2011 Daniel Jacob Kubus
Kubus, Daniel Jacob. "A profile of Viennese society: an interpretative guide to Erich W. Korngold's second piano sonata and Artur Schnabel's sonata for piano." doctoral dissertation, University of Iowa, 2011.